Below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
Below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

Forests help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by storing it in trees, but a sizable amount of the greenhouse gas actually escapes through the soil and into rivers and streams.

That’s the main finding of a paper to appear Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s the first study to comprehensively look at how carbon moves in freshwater across the entire U.S.

The researchers found that across the country, the ability of forests to store carbon is not as robust once freshwater is factored into the equation. They hope to introduce this as an important concept to consider when modeling how much carbon is stored in terrestrial landscapes.

“If our goal is to use forests as a way to manage carbon stocks, we should know what is leaking into streams, rivers and lakes,” said lead author David Butman, an assistant professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington.

“Our research suggests that in fact these landscapes might not be taking up as much carbon as we think because we’re not accounting for what’s being lost in aquatic systems.”

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